Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's iconic Fighting Fantasy game books have enjoyed a new lease of life in digital form recently.
Following Livingstone's lauded Blood of the Zombies comes his former partner's ambitious four-part Sorcery! series, and, as this first chapter shows, Cambridge indie inkle is more than up to the task of matching Jackson's enterprise.
Its setup is from a time when such stories weren't quite so cliché. You play as a lone warrior, venturing out from the kingdom of Analand to recover the mysterious Crown of Kings, recently stolen by an evil Archmage who aims to use its powers to build an army and take over the region.
With meagre gold and rations, and a depleted stamina meter that only steadily increases as you grow accustomed to the foul air outside the kingdom gates, you're really thrown in at the deep end, and Jackson's prose expertly conveys the harshness and desperation that shrouds this bleakest of worlds.
It doesn't just rely on words to get its message across. Instead of turning pages, you drag your hero - resembling a tabletop figurine - across a map, flagposts marking your next potential destination. Meanwhile, evocative sound effects transport you into dank caves, windswept plains, and leafy forests.
Even the text is beautifully presented, each choice printed on a separate leaf of the book, which stitches into the previous page once selected.
The biggest difference between Sorcery! and Tin Man Games's Gamebook Adventures, however, comes in its handling of combat.
Encounters begin in the time-honoured videogame fashion: you on the left, your opponent on the right.
Rather than rolling dice to determine your fate, you move your avatar to decide the strength of your attack - from a full-blooded swipe all the way to the right, to a defensive stance on the left.
Defending minimises the damage from an enemy attack, but you'll still suffer a slight knock to your stamina, though this way you can store up more energy to throw into your next blow. It's not always easy to read your foe, but the text descriptions usually give you a clue as to whether he's ready to block or strike.
Trick or treat?
Then again, it's as likely as not to lead you up the garden path. Playing the hero may earn you a useful new ally, or see you cruelly betrayed. Elsewhere, you'll have to consider where your moral compass is pointing. When you're short on rations or money, can you really afford not to steal?
In addition to wielding swords or axes, you can hurl spells and curses at specific points. Combine three letters and you can create a force field to deflect projectiles (FOF) or give slavering hounds a hearty ZAP of electricity.
What a Kharé-on
The result is an adventure you can really stamp your own personal imprint on. Though all routes eventually lead to the same terminus, the choices you make promise to impact on future episodes. For example, we'll start the next episode with full pockets having been paid handsomely for a rescue mission, and with a pair of useful keys to take to the city of Kharé.
In the spirit of Fighting Fantasy, you'll often end up in a scenario from which there's no escape, usually resulting in a brutal death. Thankfully, you can rewind to the last section you successfully completed, while battles can be replayed until you emerge relatively unscathed.
The latter is arguably a compromise too far, though it's understandable given that luck is such a crucial factor.
Beautifully realised and with a compelling if familiar narrative, Sorcery!'s only real problem is that it's over too soon. Here's hoping inkle can release the next episode in timely fashion, as this gripping tale has us well and truly hooked.
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